Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5 
Pros: Characters, plot, recipes. Basically everything
Cons: I think I gained weight just from reading it.
The Bottom Line:
A small town setting
Murder outside bakery
Cozy recipe

The Delicious Debut of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries
Little did anyone know when this book first came out in 2000 just how popular the series would become. Hannah Swensen has been baking and sleuthing in the small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota for years now, and when book eight hit the New York Times bestseller list, the time seemed right to re-release Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, the one that started it all.

Hannah Swensen's life is going well. Her shop, The Cookie Jar, is successful, and she's content living a single life with her cat as company.

But then Lake Eden is rocked by a murder. Ron LaSalle was a delivery driver for the local dairy. He's late making his delivery one morning, and Hannah investigates to find him shot to death in his truck.

Hannah's brother-in-law, Bill, is up for promotion to detective, so he asks Hannah to keep her ears open to any gossip she can find. She goes a step further, however, and begins tracking down leads herself. She hits dead end after dead end since everyone seems to have an alibi and no motive. Ron was a likable guy with no enemies. Who would want to kill him?

Rereading this book was quite interesting for me. I hadn't read it since 2001, and I read every new addition in the series as soon as I can get my hands on it. I had forgotten just how far the relationships had come. Hannah's relationship with her sister Andrea is more strained here then in later books. Many times, I felt a smile on my face just at the mention of a name because of how important the characters have become to me and the series over the eight books.

The plot of this book is wonderful. Clues, dead ends, and red herrings are everywhere. The pace is steady and never bored me. And there is a twist that I really enjoyed.

The writing style is a bit simple. Sometimes, the author goes out of her way to explain something that most everyone knows. Still, it's not something that is especially noticeable. It took me several books to notice it myself in fact.

In addition to the great mystery, there are seven cookie recipes for cookies mentioned in the story. And, yes, this includes the Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies from the title. I've actually tried making them, and they are easy enough for this bachelor to make and they are as good as they sound.

For the reissue of this book, author Joanne Fluke has written a new novella. Set just a few weeks after the original novel ends, "Candy for Christmas" finds Hannah dealing with a runaway girl. Candy sneaks into the shop one night, and Hannah begins to try to piece together clues to help this teen return home.

Since this story only takes up 100 pages, some of the series regulars are reduced to cameos and a couple don't even appear. Still, the story is very enjoyable and quite heartwarming. I even shed a tear or two during the climax. It's the perfect story for Christmas. And, in keeping with the tradition of the series, there are nine new recipes for you to try.

This series is as enjoyable as eating cookies. And as hard to stop after having just one, so dig in with Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

You'll be left wanting to read more in the Hannah Swensen Mysteries in order.

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